Love isn’t easy – or optional
April 3, 2023 by Christine Chakoian
Again and again, Jesus urges us to love: to love the Lord our God with all our heart and mind and soul and strength … to love one another, as he has loved us … to love our neighbors as ourselves … and to love our enemies, as hard as it may be.
Now, there are times when love is delightful, joyful, and easy. Recently I went to Albuquerque to visit our daughter and her family. It had been months since I’d seen our sweet granddaughter. What a joy it was! At 20 months old, she is running and jumping, playing with dolls and reading baby books. She’s talking more and more, and she loves to hug. If there is ever an easy person to love, it’s that adorable kiddo!
But it’s not quite as easy to love everyone, is it? Even – sometimes especially – in church.
Some of us have known the challenge of love through the pain of being hurt by our closest friends and loved ones. Some know the challenge of love when we’re the target of nasty gossip or humiliating public judgment. Some have borne the brunt of degrading condescension, or being marginalized altogether, with no promise of “a future and a hope.”
Love is challenging. But as followers of Christ, it’s not optional. So how do we find our way?
One of the most liberating realizations for me as a pastor has been to set aside the notion that I have to feel loving in order to embody love. Years ago, psychiatrist M. Scott Peck’s words changed my notion of love altogether: love, he said, is not a feeling. “True love is not a feeling by which we are overwhelmed. It is a committed, thoughtful decision,” Peck writes in The Road Less Traveled: A New Psychology of Love, Traditional Values and Spiritual Growth (Simon & Schuster, 1978).
When I decide to love, it opens me to have compassion for others. Compassion, at its root, literally means “suffering with,” which is what Christ did for us. Just as Christ had compassion for us, so we are to have compassion for others. We don’t have to agree with people; we don’t even have to like them. But we can go deeper into the pain they might be going through. We can’t always know what their suffering looks like, of course – and sometimes, the veneer of power or perfection is hiding the pain they feel. I love the advice writer Anne Lamott says: “Never compare your insides to everyone else's outsides.”
Love isn’t always easy. It isn’t always clear. And it’s made all the harder in our oh-so-deeply-divided world. But we’re still called to embody God’s love for this messy broken world by coming together, by knowing each other, by loving each other. Even, especially, when we disagree.
Can we accomplish this by ourselves? Hardly. But deep in my heart, I still believe Christ can. The apostle Paul urged the early Christians in Ephesus not to divide themselves between Gentile and Jew, but instead, to tear down the barriers between them. In Ephesians 2 he urges them – and urges us still:
4For [Christ] is our peace; in his flesh he has made both groups into one and has broken down the dividing wall, that is, the hostility between us. 15He has … created in himself one new humanity in place of the two, thus making peace, 16and might reconcile both groups to God in one body through the cross, thus putting to death [our] hostility through it. … 19So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you are citizens with the saints and also members of the household of God.
In the end, love is rarely easy. But it still beats the alternatives.
Rev. Dr. Christine (Chris) Chakoian serves as Pastor and Head of Staff of Westwood Presbyterian Church in Los Angeles. She has served in this position since August 2019. She is called to lead the congregation in the ways of Christ. She comes to us from Pittsburgh Theological Seminary where she served as Vice President for Seminary Advancement. Her previous calls include Pastor/Head of Staff at First Presbyterian Church of Lake Forest, IL, and Community Presbyterian Church in Clarendon Hills, IL, as well as Associate Pastor at Westminster Presbyterian Church in Portland, OR, Fourth Presbyterian Church in Chicago, and Overbrook Presbyterian Church in Columbus, Ohio. She is married to John Shustitzky, Director of the Doctoral program in Applied Clinical Psychology at the L.A. campus of the Chicago School of Professional Psychology. Their daughter and son-in-law, Anna and Spencer Sohn, live in Albuquerque.